Scilly’s Council Criticised For Ignoring Information Requests

The Town Hall

The Town Hall

The Council of the Isles of Scilly is continuing to ignore some freedom of information queries. And they’ve been issued with their second notice in six months warning that they have breached the Freedom of Information Act.

The Council has refused to explain who gave authority for an official apology to be made in a meeting last May. At the time members were unclear who had authorised the public apology for comments that had allegedly upset an employee during a debate the previous July.

It later emerged that the upset staff member was offered a sum believed to be £500, after they went to a mainland employment tribunal.

The Council refused to say who had signed off the statement, saying it was confidential.

The Information Commissioner has criticised their response for not properly explaining why the information couldn’t be released and for failing to provide an internal review of that decision.

They told the Council that it must state whether it holds the information and either release it or issue a valid refusal notice. Failure to comply could find the council in contempt of court.

Last November, the Council was also criticised for the way it handled a request for information over legal costs it had incurred.

We asked the Council two weeks ago about whether they will be reviewing their procedures for handling FOI requests and whether staff were adequately trained in how to respond. We also asked who is responsible for ensuring they comply with the FOI Act.

Their press office conformed they have received our email but the Council has chosen not to respond.



8 Responses to Scilly’s Council Criticised For Ignoring Information Requests

  1. Mark Prebble April 3, 2013 at 9:39 am

    So, my request for information on the waste strategy has been processed relatively quickly, given the intervention of a bank holiday and staff on leave, but i don’t understand why it hasn’t been available on the council web site for easy access.

    I say easy access, i would speculate that the council’s web site would come pretty low in most people’s estimation of a transparent and functional public service.

    Christian, i would imagine that Twitter is seen as an alien language by those members of council that don’t have the wherewithal to answer written letters and emails in the general course of representing the electorate let alone responding in real time.

    The challenges the new council will face do include the need to communicate effectively and responsibly with the whole community as well as getting to grips with spiralling costs which are not helped in many cases, by their current ‘no comment’ approach.

  2. pat hicks April 3, 2013 at 9:33 am

    Dont think Some of the councilors have got a laptop or twitter account.and some dont know how to work one anyway. which is a shame in this day and age as we have come to rely heavily on the internet to keep in touch with what goes on around the world.. but eh hoo thats life on scilly i suppose. ?
    perhaps that is something you can ask the candietes that are standing, have you got/ work a computor. !!. hopefully most of them can.

  3. Nobby Nobbs April 3, 2013 at 6:10 am

    In today’s Torygraph, the local government minister Eric Pickles states….
    “Councils have a responsibility to the public and transparency is at the heart of that.

    Perhaps Mr Pickles could remind our council of its obligations, both legal and moral with regards to transparency

    Article can be found at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/9967901/14m-bill-for-gagging-axed-public-officials.html

  4. Fran Grottick April 3, 2013 at 6:07 am

    Christian, that is interesting. Must disagree with you re.
    tweeting in meetings, though. I would like to think that Councillors were focusing on matters being discussed.
    Even if they can multi-task!

  5. Christian May April 2, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    It’s worth noting that under the Act local authorities have a legal requirement “to provide advice and assistance” to the person submitting a request. In other words, they are required by law to:

    – Explain exactly why they refuse a request
    – Suggest an alternative way in which you might find the information
    – Ensure that the request is seen by the most appropriate person

    Point three here is interesting. If the FOI Officer (or member of his staff) is the subject of an FOI request, do you think they deem themselves to be the most appropriate person to make a decision on it? The “duty to assist” is the most readily forgotten part of this law.

    I know that huge changes are coming to this Council, but one of the most important things must surely be to remind the officers and staff that they are public servants with a statutory duty to assist and, perhaps more importantly in a place like Scilly, a moral obligation to be upfront, accountable and fair.

    Far too many important stories on this site and elsewhere end with “the council has chosen not to respond.” It’s utterly unacceptable in this day and age.

    It’s arrogant, and it’s a huge disservice to Councillors and members of the community who all deserve better.

    The Council’s communication strategy seems to consist of burying bad news on a Friday afternoon, having a press officer who is paid to recite the words “no comment” and citing “legal advice” as a reason not to answer anything. In this day and age they should be proactive, using Twitter to promote their decisions and respond to stories. Councillors should Tweet, and they should do so from meetings as well.

    Up the revolution.

  6. Nobby Nobbs April 2, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    This particular incident happened under Philip Hygate’s command and the member of staff concerned was a member of his retinue, so I think it can be safely assumed that there is a “possibility” that he might know who signed off the apology. As to this information being ‘confidential’ I would strongly disagree, we just want to know who signed off the apology on behalf of the council, hardy information which is likely to lead to a breach in national security.
    Everytime the council officers try and hide things from the councillors or the public, it just makes people distrust them even more.
    The council (senior officers) have a legal duty to follow freedom of information requests, if senior officers are found to be in breach of the law, then perhaps the local constabulary should take a more robust interest.

  7. Stavropol April 2, 2013 at 11:36 am

    It’s about time the council put a cock up donations jar in the town hall reception don you think? That way the employees and councillors can all pop a quid in it every time they pass it. With near 200 employees one should think 500 quid is quite attainable in a week!

  8. John Hicks April 2, 2013 at 8:52 am

    And who will be responsible for paying the forth coming fines? The councillors or the officers,